Friday, July 16, 2010

Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2006)

USA, 84 minutes
Director: Larry Charles
Writers: Sacha Baron Cohen, Anthony Hines, Peter Baynham, Dan Mazer, Todd Phillips
Photography: Luke Geissbuhler, Anthony Hardwick
Cast/appearances: Sacha Baron Cohen, Ken Davitian, Luenell, Pamela Anderson, Bob Barr, Alan Keyes

Inspired, unnerving, and hilarious, so much so that I have wanted almost desperately to overlook its many flaws and exalt it to the status of documentary—and, at that, an important one. Sacha Baron Cohen as the overbearing yet disarming Kazakh stereotype is sharp as hell, locating the fatuousness of his various interlocutors, impassively abetting them in the self-exposure of their deep-seated stupidities and hypocrisy. But no, it's not a documentary, as the tissue-thin connecting narrative scenes make more than apparent, featuring only Cohen or Cohen and sidekick Ken Davitian (as his producer) on camera. But the throbbing heart of this thing remains the numerous daring and outrageous pranks that it documents. With the exception of the overdone kidnapping of Pamela Anderson as its lame climax, the pranks are as real as the stink on your ass. They are often so ingeniously engineered and played out as to be almost distracting (this Salon article has helpful information). Somehow, for example, he finagles his way into singing the national anthem at a rodeo in Salem, Virginia, where his introductory remarks draw an enthusiastic response: "May George Bush drink the blood of every single man, woman, and child of Iraq! May you destroy their country so that of the next 1,000 years not even a single lizard will survive in their deserts!" (The crowd is noticeably less appreciative, however, when he begins singing and mangles the national anthem.) Then there is Cohen eagerly taking pointers in etiquette from privileged genteel Southerners in Birmingham, Alabama, pretending at a dinner party that he does not understand how to excuse himself to use the bathroom, and then returning to the table from said trip with a plastic bag of feces, which he presents in his confusion to the hostess. Then there is conservative/"libertarian" stalwart Bob Barr taking a sit-down with Cohen, who offers Barr cheese as a customary way to open a meeting. Once Barr has taken a bite of it Cohen tells him his wife made it "from the milk from her tit." All of which brings me, haphazardly or otherwise, to why I likely saw more importance in this wild romp than may actually be here: it is a neat encapsulation, reflection, and expression of the rage and impotence I experienced regarding the national zeitgeist in the U.S. over this past decade. I like this so much, in other words, because I got so mad. And if many of the people targeted here are hardly the most appropriate for the treatment (and a number are plain victims, in the wrong place at the wrong time), most of them will do fine until the right ones come along. What's more, none of that means this isn't funny. It's devastatingly, wickedly funny.

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